What is the etymology of the phrase "to shoot the shit?"
April 28, 2006 8:41 AM   Subscribe

What is the origin of the phrase "to shoot the shit?"
posted by jrb223 to Writing & Language (7 answers total)
Seems pretty obvious. You aren't going to talk about anything important. What can be less important than shooting shit.
posted by tellurian at 8:52 AM on April 28, 2006

Maybe it's a derivative of the expression, "shoot the breeze".....which I guess means pointlessly pushing out the air in front of your mouth.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 9:02 AM on April 28, 2006

In the brief research i did before posting the question I saw at least one reference to it being a derivative of shoot the breeze so I think that's on the right track. Where then, does the phrase shoot the breeze come from?
posted by jrb223 at 9:06 AM on April 28, 2006

tellurian: He didn't ask what it meant, he asked where it originated.

I don't have anything handy that I can cite, but I'm certain that "shoot the shit" is derived from "shoot the breeze" (which, I suppose, is even less important than shooting shit!). Interestingly, AHD4 lists "shoot the bull" alongside "shoot the breeze". "Bull" is a nice transitional stage between "breeze" and "shit", I think.

Etymonline gives a first use of 1941 for "shoot the breeze" without a citation. But OED2 has a 1941 first use as well, with a citation: Guide to U.S. Naval Academy 149 -- but the usage there isn't exactly the modern usage: "Breeze, shoot the, to refight the Civil War, etc.". There's a 1943 citation that represents the modern usage, though. I'm inclined to think that 1941 one captured only the "waste of time in conversation" sense without the specific "idle chat" sense. Since it settled down to "idle chat" by 1943 and stayed there it's probably a safe bet that the term did originate in the early 1940s.

I don't think there's going to be anything a whole lot better documented than those, though.
posted by mendel at 9:09 AM on April 28, 2006

You win on 'shoot the breeze'. I would tend to go from 'bull' straight through to 'shit' though.
posted by tellurian at 10:22 AM on April 28, 2006

I always thought of it as akin to "slinging bullshit."

I have no etymological basis for this.
posted by oxonium at 9:34 PM on April 28, 2006

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